Sunday, July 14, 2024

A construction worker at Bow Market in Somerville’s Union Square on Thursday. (Photo: Kate Wheatley)

Somerville’s Bow Market plans to open an expansion in September after a year of construction that’s converted a former Cambridge Heath Alliance building in Union Square into five storefronts. They’re larger than its existing pop-up spaces, allowing successful shops to grow while welcoming businesses in their place.

“I think this is just going to be more to love,” said Matthew Boyes-Watson, co-founder of the collection of shops and eateries. “We always loved that Bow was a place you could discover something, and now there’s more to discover – more corners to turn and see cool things.”

The CHA property has been empty for roughly a decade, split into four spaces – one of which became Bow Market five years ago, and another that was bought by a restaurateur whose plans never came together, Boyes-Watson said. The end of that project gave Bow Market a chance to pick up 6,000 square feet of “definitely needed” space. After a $1.4 million investment buying the property and roughly another $1 million to create the individual shop spaces, Bow will now have a total 18,000.

Bow Market is now tucked down a driveway; when the new space opens to the public – Boyes-Watson would like to see that happen Sept. 15, barring construction delays – it will include a second path to walk down to discover everything from Japanese home goods to fresh seafood. (Union Tavern will stay open between the two paths.) Since opening in 2018, the award-winning market has been a place where small-business owners can pop up and test concepts, many in storefront spaces the size of a single-car garage bay with an upfront cost of $10,000 to $25,000, as opposed to the $100,000 cost for standard main street space.

Blue Bandana Relics will be in one of five new Bow Market spaces. (Photo: Kate Wheatley)

Once the CHA space became available, Boyes-Watson said there was a sense of urgency to provide bigger homes for businesses. “There’s almost no 500- to 900-square-foot spaces, which is a great step for folks,” he said, calling it a “demonstration project” for a more affordable business model. He’s very excited by all the residential development in Union Square, which creates customers for his tenants, he said, but is “having a hard time assessing” the value brought so far by the square’s new MBTA green line rail stop.

“I personally believe that the soul of a city, of a neighborhood, vibrates the strongest at the sidewalk level,” said Jessica Eshleman, executive director of Union Square Main Streets, a nonprofit promoter of the area. “Suddenly, with this expansion, there are several storefronts that are going to go from dark into a place that’s full of color and interesting things and discovery.”

Bow Market provides “lower barriers to entry for small businesses,” said Jen Palacio, the owner of Tiny Turns Paperie, a boutique stationery and gift shop that already went from 164 square feet to 325 since opening at Bow in 2019. It’s among five Bow storefronts ready to graduate into larger spaces again, and the expansion will give the shop 835 square feet.

“The timing was almost perfect,” Palacio said.

Expanding businesses

Jen Palacio, owner of Tiny Turns Paperie in Bow Market, and a look at a Paperie shelf. (Photos: Carlie Febo)

The vintage retail shop Blue Bandana Relics; the massage, strength and recovery studio Soft Space Wellness; the pizza and roast beef sandwich shop Hot Box; and the restaurant Carolicious Gourmet, which graduated from Nibble Kitchen, will join Tiny Turns in larger locations at Bow. All should be reopened by February, with Tiny Turns and Blue Bandana open by mid-September. Tiny Turns and Blue Bandana will be near the new entrance.

Palacio said she was excited to be able to curate a window display – something that wasn’t feasible at her previous location – and thinks her new location will make for a “more symbiotic” relationship between passersby and Bow. “People who are already coming for us will find it easier to get to us, but also new people that didn’t know us or Bow Market will discover us and, hopefully, discover all of our friends that are in the courtyard,” she said.

Goods in the expanding Blue Bandana Relics in Bow Market. (Photo: Carlie Febo)

Keith Tate, founder and creator of Blue Bandana, said he is excited to bring “badass retail” to the square but feels the “requirement to become a bigger part of Union Square and Somerville.”

“Leaving the cocoon that we’ve been in for five years and jumping out onto Somerville Avenue and being part of the face of the new entrance to Bow – we’re going to be right there – is a lot of pressure,” Tate said. “But it was just such a great opportunity, it’ll probably never come again, and I’m a risk taker. I think you have to be as a small-business owner.”

On Aug. 17, the graduating businesses will host a preview party and fundraiser where they will open their doors for customers to see the new spaces. Tickets are here.